AG2R's Cyril Dessel, already a stage winner at the Four Days of Dunkirk and the Tour of Catalunya, added to his impressive 2008 palmares with a spectacular solo win on stage four in the Dauphiné. The Frenchman attacked the survivors of a day-long breakaway, catching and passing the young French hope Pierre Rolland (Crédit Agricole) on the final climb with 20 kilometres to go, and then courageously holding his lead to the line.
In the group of favourites, only Michael Rogers of High Road attacked the yellow jersey Alejandro Valverde, breaking clear before the line, but only gaining a few seconds over his rivals.
"It was a very fast stage," Valverde noted. "Initially we didn't want to let a breakaway go, but the presence of Oscar Pereiro in it made things easier for us. In the final climb, we controlled the situation. I had very good sensations. On the climb I could feel some pain in my legs, but that was the consequence of the time trial the day before, otherwise I was climbing well."
There was a race within a race as the breakaway realized that none of them would threaten Valverde's yellow jersey – the highest ranked rider was Lars Bak in 12th place at 2'47 with Pereiro in 13th at 2'48. It was then an all-out battle for stage glory.
The French riders, who last year scored the overall Dauphiné victory thanks to Christophe Moreau, were especially interested in the stage win and made a 1-2-3 with Dessel, Rolland and Amaël Moinard. It was Thomas Voeckler who was first to attack from the front group prior to climbing the grueling Mont Salève. Second year pro Rolland had no fear to go with him and drop him off. "I realized he was nervous," the 21-year-old from Crédit Agricole explained. "Unfortunately, Dessel rejoined me and passed me as he was sprinting."
"I wanted to go solo downhill to be able to choose my way down to the finishing town," Dessel, a former yellow jersey in the Tour de France confirmed. "My idea was to catch Rolland before the summit." The young one had no clue about the Mont Salève, a very steep climb nearby Geneva but still on the French territory. Dessel knew it since he climbed it once at the age of 14 with his father before he got his first racing license. Rolland thought the climb was over although there were still two kilometers before the summit.
"With a stage win, my contract at the Dauphiné is filled up," Dessel said. "I didn't necessarily plan to attack today, but I was inspired by my team-mate José Luis Arrieta who was calling the young riders to go to the front with the attacks. Only with attacking there's a chance of getting a result, I know that well. If I can get another top ten at the Dauphiné, I'll go for it."
There will be another grueling climb and a very likely similar scenario with Joux-Plane scheduled in stage five before arriving in Morzine. "I can feel my rivals are ready to attack me," Valverde observed. "They wanted to try something in the Salève but it went too fast. I have seen Robert Gesink was very strong in the climb and his Rabobank team was very committed as well. It wasn't a goal for me to win the Dauphiné at the beginning but now I'll try to. I will fight without taking risks though."
How it unfolded
Yaroslav Popovych (Silence-Lotto) gave birth to the first breakaway of the day at kilometre five. The Ukrainian was followed by Ruben Perez (Euskaltel), Emanuele Bindi (Lampre), Valerio Agnoli (Liquigas), Karsten Kroon (CSC) and David De La Fuente (Saunier Duval). There was a quick reaction from the bunch.
At km 12, Christophe Riblon (Ag2r) went clear. Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner) and Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank) joined him but once again, the bunch reacted. After one hour of extremely intense fighting, 16 men finally found their way out at km 62: Roy Sentjens (Silence-Lotto), Sergio Paulinho (Astana), Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne), Juan José Oroz (Euskaltel), Pierre Rolland and Christophe Le Mével (Crédit Agricole), Juan Manuel Garate (Quick Step), Cyril Dessel (Ag2r), Amaël Moinard (Cofidis), Heinrich Haussler and Peter Wrolich (Gerolsteiner), Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom), Frederik Willems (Liquigas), Lars Bak (CSC), David De La Fuente (Saunier Duval) and Dominik Roels (Milram).
Eight kilometers further, their advantage was 2'50 over a bunch led by the Caisse d'Epargne team of race leader Alejandro Valverde. At km 114, the gap was 3'40 and Rabobank came to the front to give a hand to the Spanish team.
In the first small climbs, De La Fuente consolidated his polka dot jersey. Voeckler attacked at km 160. Rolland joined him away while Roels and Haussler stayed in between. At the foot of the Mont Salève (km 168.5), Rolland went solo. A trio was formed behind him by Dessel, Paulinho and Moinard.
At km 173.5, Dessel overtook Rolland and attacked straight away. Dessel was fist at the top of the Salève 22 seconds ahead of Rolland and 2'40 ahead of the group of the favorites with all the main contenders there, including Robert Gesink (Rabobank) who accelerated towards the top.
Despite a fright in the downhill, Dessel took his first Dauphiné win in Annemasse. Rolland came 2nd and Valverde kept his lead.